It’s an invasion of goldfinches… and pine siskins, and red polls and warblers and lots of other birds too lately! With the extreme cold weather, thistle feeders are being emptied at record rates, even Atlanta saw some of the white stuff, with more expected on Tuesday.
Birds seem ravenous around all of the feeders, and rightly so – it’s freakin’ freezing out there! With blustery winds and 12 degree temps a few days ago, my hands were not only numb… they actually hurt upon finishing the A.M. feeding routine. Placing them over a hot burner on the stove, then under hot water, I felt fairly sure it was frostbite
So how do they do it? Fragile, tiny little birds surviving the most frigid conditions, day in and day out? I don’t know! Looking like puff balls, their feathers do trap heat for one survival tactic, and if they constantly eat all day, they’re able to store enough calories (energy) to hold them through the night. And yes, they can eat snow but it takes energy to convert it to liquid. Their daily struggle’s got to get old in these brutal winter conditions? Cardinals, bluebirds, woodpeckers, phoebes, a lone mockingbird, chipping sparrows and all the other usual suspects abound… and yet with snow on the ground!
But it’s really just instinct when you think about it. Mother Nature equips all beings with this basic survival mode. She also equips some of us with the lunacy that the birds won’t make it unless you put food out twice a day… and have 3 heated birdbaths readily available But we do it not only for the birds, but for our own satisfaction of feeling like we helped, and the simple joy derived from watching them.
Keep feeders filled (and clean). Larger than normal bird populations crowding feeders is one way disease is spread.
Offer fresh water, birds will flock to a heated bath. You can purchase a heater separately and add it to your existing bath or even a shallow pan of water.
Put out extra suet, easily make your own, form into cakes for suet cages, or crumbles for platform or dish feeders. High fat foods that are easy to digest serve birds well in freezing weather.
Peanuts are ideal, as is plain old peanut butter. We smear some right on a tree trunk! Nuthatches, woodpeckers and warblers love it.
Add an extra thistle sock for the crowds of finches. Relatively inexpensive, the black mesh thistle feeders are stronger and generally more durable than most.
Stay safe and warm… and please feed the birds
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Depends on who you’re looking to attract? Most clinging birds covet shelled peanuts, in fact almost all birds will go for them. But not all birds are clingers, classified by their ability to grasp a small surface (and their strong feet). Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and titmice for the most part are considered clingers. The term not to be confused with clingons from Star-Trek
Adding a tray to peanut bird feeders allows other birds to easily get the goods. Jays adore peanuts, warblers go for them in winter, as will most backyard birds during frigid weather. The tray is inviting, making landing and eating easier.
Larger trays even catch waste from whole peanuts, which folks who could do without the waste might find more appealing. Although when feeding shelled peanuts… there’s really not much waste all. So that alone may influence what’s best to offer at your place! Many shelled peanut feeders offer tray options-but should they not- a universal seed catcher is available to accommodate them.
If the waste from feeding birds is a big drawback, large adjustable seed trays could be the answer. Attaching to almost any type of feeder, the large 16- or 30-inch diameter promises to catch anything that falls from the feeder. These also create a new feeding space with their large platform area. Peanuts pack a real punch in terms of nutritional value, especially in cold weather. They’re economical if purchased in bulk too. So don’t give up the ship due to the mess some peanut bird feeders may leave behind!
Not all blue bird houses are created equal!
Depending on how much you’re willing to commit may play a part in choosing a house to host bluebirds. If you’re more of the “set it & forget it” kind (and that’s okay) at least use a quality wood or vinyl birdhouse. These usually have proper drainage, decent ventilation, adequate floor space and proportional entries (1.5 inches for Eastern blues and 1-9/16 inch for mountain and Western species).
Metal decorative houses really aren’t the best choice, especially since bluebirds (and some other species) tend to have 2-3 clutches or broods per season. During hot summer days… metal heats up and babies can fry
Predator guards are always helpful, both on the entry to keep grabby paws and larger bully birds out, and on the pole itself – in the form of a baffle. If the birdhouse hangs, simply use a hanging squirrel baffle above for further protection from predators.
The National Bluebird Society approves housing that is monitor-friendly, meaning you can easily access inside to see how the nest is progressing and babies are faring. Most bluebird specific houses have side doors for viewing, Gilbertson houses pop on & off of the roof via two pins, and the popular Peterson style has a front door that pulls down for nest checks. Seasoned bluebird monitors all have their favorites for different reasons!
But why would anyone want to see how the nest is progressing? House sparrows… they mustn’t be allowed to nest if you’re trying to attract bluebirds. They’re enemies, brutal enemies of native bluebirds. Until one witnesses the carnage- it’s difficult to grasp, and although native- house wrens should be deterred as well. The other day I was screaming at starlings in the yard when my friend insisted “they’re birds too-they deserve to eat.” Not here, nope, no can do! Also non-native, and invasive, they compete for nesting space with brutal tactics, not to mention the mess on every baffle and feeder around the yard!
If you’re new to hosting bluebirds, nature will show both the pleasures and heartache she can bear. Knowing a few basics will have you on your way in no time! Watch for sparrow nests, usually piled high and messy, with bits of trash woven throughout. They tend to have a tunnel-type entrance as well. House wrens will lay claim by placing sticks inside, criss-crossed, piled up twigs. They’ll do this even when not using the birdhouse to nest… but simply to keep others out of their territory. The website Sialis.org has a wealth of knowledge on identifying nests, eggs, behaviors and everything pertinent to bluebirds and other native cavity dwelling birds. Definitely worth a look!
Back oil sunflower seed is likely the most versatile of all birdseed. We prefer using the meats or hearts as they leave less ground waste and more species are apt to chow down! Even in finch feeders, using a mix that contains sunflower hearts will bring more color and more birds to the feeder.
During cold weather, a wide variety of feathered friends will absolutely find chopped sunflower a tasty treat! Cardinals, who’d rather not perch on narrow trays, chickadees, warblers, bluebirds, Carolina wrens and the other usual suspects will go for the high fat, high protein seed.
When chopped and mixed with thistle (a popular store-bought mix) it provides a hearty meal for many! Finch feeders with trays accommodate more birds than those with perches alone too. Because thistle won’t germinate and the sunflower is void of shells… it’s a really clean seed mix with almost zero waste. Sure, thistle hulls will accumulate, but no weeds will sprout! Just scoop it up with a small garden shovel every few weeks.
We promise, just because a feeder is called by a certain name or kind- doesn’t mean that’s all it does. Finch feeders need not only offer thistle for finches! And by the way, you can fashion a great jelly feeder for orioles using a small hanging candle holder, suet feeders rock for offering nesting materials… get the picture?Follow @allpetsupplieso
Basically, birds need higher fat and carbohydrate type foods that are easier and/or faster to digest during frigid weather.
Aside from topping off basic seed feeders, you can utilize window bird feeders and other platforms for these kinds of treats. Suet cakes broken into chunks, any kind of nuggets or crumbles, even home-made suet mixes and bluebird delight (recipes on our website) are ideal for open style window feeders.
Water… don’t forget that fresh water’s extremely important when all natural sources have frozen. Birds will flock to a heated bath throughout the entire winter season!
Since freezing weather always brings more birds around to feeders, you can easily set up a new feeding space or two without additional feeders per se. Offer more of those high fat, high carb foods using suet or peanut butter smeared right on a tree trunk! Nuthatches, warblers, chickadees and every species of woodpecker will go for it in a snap. The extra calories serve them well helping to maintain body temperature and warmth overnight.
While you’re toasty warm inside, please remember feathered friend’s survival tactics and help them out during frigid weather!
“Yesterday was very bright sun, but still cool with a heavy frost this morning. By late evening there were bluebird families sitting on high line wires & fence lines and males were singing from tree tops all along the roads where I have up bluebird houses. You see families of bluebirds right now at every people house that has up nesting boxes in their yards!”
See? That’s from a bluebird expert… the scouts will be out and about very soon, busy claiming their territory and the best spring digs in hopes of attracting a mate for the cycle of life that is nesting season! It’s a great time of year for all those “people houses” who host feathered friends too.
If you’ve never experienced a family of blues in your yard… this is the year you must try! For those who’ve hosted, and even monitored nests, the rewards need not be explained. Mom & Dad raise nestlings with some pretty amazing teamwork and TLC. Should bluebirds stick around for a second clutch (very common if the first fledges are successful) you’ll see those juveniles help parents raise the new babies. Totally cool indeed!
Bluebird houses are best placed in an open area, mounted at about 5 feet high. The houses can be higher, but will prove difficult to monitor-which is a bummer. Folks actually help bluebirds thrive by looking out for them and monitoring their houses.
Everyone starts somewhere, so an absolute knowledge of the bird isn’t required – but some basic know-how and what to watch for are best for the birds. The North American Bluebird Society (NABS) actually rates and approves birdhouses suited for blues. Should you plan to monitor this year, look for a NABS Approved Bluebird House.
The website Sialis.org has a wealth of information in an easy to navigate format. Not just for bluebirds, but info about most North American cavity nesters. Your state may even have a bluebird society or association who’d be thrilled to help get you started with hosting bluebirds!
Spring is still months away for most two-legged beings, but for birds it’s the slight increase in daylight hours that sends signals. Instinctively, some of the earlier nesting birds who typically have 2-3 clutches per season, will begin scouting for suitable territory and housing to claim as their own. One of the milder winters of 2012 actually saw bluebird nest starts in February!
These cavity-dwelling birds (chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers and others) seek both man-made and natural nesting spots to raise their young. Providing homes for them through birdhouse kit projects makes perfect sense. Start now to have housing in place prior to nesting season in spring. The scouts will be on it sooner than than you think!
A great class-project for schools, with potential to get kids excited about and noticing some natural yet everyday wonders around them! The sturdy wooden housing offers birds a viable roost for cold nights, as well as an ultimate nest spot for several years. The houses may be decorated or painted incorporating art into the project as well.
Also as part of the project, kids can gather home-made nesting materials to help lure birds to their new creations. Feathers, and pet hair are favorites, while decorative mosses are heavily used for nest building-even by those birds who don’t use houses. Dryer lint is never recommended because polyester and such are aren’t natural. Should any of the families have horses or if the school’s near a farm… even better because horse hair is a big winner for birds! The mesh produce bags from the grocery store (like the kind apples come in) make ideal holders for the materials collected.
Please do inquire on bulk rates for school birdhouse kit projects! We’d be delighted to help… our thanks for housing the birdsFollow @allpetsupplieso
Whether hanging or pole-mounted, there’s a solution with bird seed trays. This one is adjustable and accommodates almost any style feeder out there! Although the Seed Hoops hang, they’ll slide nicely right over a pole as well. It’s as simple as cutting a small slit in the center of the tray.
A few other measures to avoid ground mess or at least reduce its presence, is using a no-waste seed. Because there are no fillers, birds are less likely to sort through and pick out the good stuff! Fillers are what ends up on the ground anyway, millet, milo and corn being most common. Sunflower hearts are always a great choice, and you can bet anything that does land on the ground gets scarfed up quickly.
Suet is another alternative for clean feeding. Many birds will partake and there’s no waste. Thistle’s also a good choice as these seeds will not germinate. You won’t see as many species with thistle alone (mostly finches), but when offered along with suet, there should be a good variety. Chickadees, nuthatches, warblers, woodpeckers, and even bluebirds in winter will go for suet.
So if the feeding mess has you down, don’t give up the ship yet… try using a bird seed tray and offering cleaner seed. The birds are worth it
What a fun image… even though the subject is house sparrows, but c’mon… bird baths are pretty useless once turned skating rink
Aside from the skater, the one with the hat is too cute- thanks Elmer for the creative… it’s perfect! Adding a simple bath heater makes water accessible through winter months. Being a critical life force, you’d be surprised at the variety of feathered friends who will frequent a fresh water source during hard freezes. Even when there’s snow on the ground, good old H2O serves birds much more effectively.
The main mode of survival during bitter weather is to eat enough food throughout the day to store a layer of fat, enough to get them through the night. So when a bird eats snow to get water, they burn precious calories in the process converting that snow to water.
Heated bird baths however are as simple as plugging them into an outlet, thus eliminating this futile process. For use year-round, just unplug and tuck the cord when spring finally rolls around. If you have an existing bath that gets turned over for winter – stop! Just add a heater as an accessory, the newer ones are safe in most baths and they even come with manufacturer warranties these days.
Even bluebirds are more likely to over-winter if a consistent fresh water source is available to them. So nix the skating rink and the dreaded bath “turn-over” as you’ll entice more beaked buddies to your place and encourage them to stick around!Follow @allpetsupplieso
Soooo guilty as charged below, ours gets stocked twice per day! Spoiled, spoiled birds- really isn’t the best scenario for them, it’s out of selfishness for simply wanting to observe. One 2015 resolution… lay off that mealworm feeder while weather remains mild and until there’s some nestlings for mom and dad to raise. The logic’s well explained below.
“WAY too many people worry about buying mealworms by the thousands, spending WAY too much money and feeding them normally at a time of the year when a healthy bluebird should be able to find WAY more than enough natural foods. Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees that were still producing fruit for many decades after he was gone! There are dozens, if not hundreds of species of plants in most areas that will provide fruits and or berries that bluebirds will feed on at different times of the year. Many/most of these are hardy enough that anyone could become an amateur “Johnny Appleseed” planting for wildlife in their own area. Keith Kridler Mt. Pleasant, Texas”
Bet you thought there would be all kinds of newfangled mealworm and bluebird feeders here? Nope! Almost weird how this info was received on the heels of discovering an article on Houzz, which was titled “Feed the Birds: 6 Plants for Abundant Winter Berries” by Therese Ciesinski.
These shrubs and trees not only enhance the landscape (the pics were stunning) they’ll offer birds natural food sources for years to come. Listing them here and tucking the list in my wallet for the future jaunts to the nursery!
- Northern Bayberry
- Arrowood Viburnum
Looking back over 2014 and the small slice of heaven that is our habitat, it’s honestly helped to keep sane! A retreat, an escape, an unexplainable aspect of nature that calms, decompresses and relaxes the soul. A quote from Roger Tory Peterson sums it up pretty well: “The birds could very well live without us, but many-perhaps all-of us would find life incomplete, indeed almost intolerable without the birds.”
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2015!